351. The First World War
by Michael Howard
This short, very short, less than 150 pages short, introductory primer on the First World War is a model of sensible lucidity. Leading British historian Michael Howard is the first to admit that much of what he says may be controversial. But the book is intended for those who know little or nothing about the conflict. It serves like the introduction to a full length book or the opening address to an English jury in a criminal trial to help put what follows into context. What Howard has produced cuts the story down to the bare bones. Even those who do take an interest in the conflict would appreciate this concise summary.
350. No Easy Task
edited by Bernd Horn and Emily Spencer
This a series of essays by academics and military men looking at the challenges faced by Canadian personnel in Afghanistan up until 2010. The topics tackled are wide ranging and so is the quality. To me, if I have to read something twice, then the writer has failed. But generally, the book is readable and thought provoking. Two essays stand out; one looking at the problems involved in keeping the military supplied in a harsh land-locked country and the other on training and mentoring the Afghan police. Both the British anti-terrorism campaigns in 1950s Malaya and Northern Ireland relied heavily on establishing credible and effective police forces. Britain's failure in Cyprus, as the essay points out, was due in large part to some very bad decisions when it came to policing. There is also a good essay on how the Afghans have resisted invaders over the century. Sadly, I found a couple of the other essays too opaque for the general reader. The general tone of the essays was optimistic but sadly several of the warnings that are sounded in the better ones have proved all too sage.
349. Tank Commanders
by George Forty
This book was a good enough read but could have been better. George Forty, who died in 2016, was a prolific writer on the subject of tanks and armoured warfare. But then he was a long-time member of the Royal Tank Regiment before revitalizing the Tank Museum at Bovington and turning it into a popular tourist attraction. He also served in Korea. The book takes a canter through the history of armoured warfare to end with a very brief chapter on the First Gulf War. The focus of this book, as a title suggests, is on the commanders. Sometimes it reads too much like a list of names with not enough detail as why certain commanders should be counted amongst the notable. I would also have liked to have seen a little more analysis of what these commanders did and how they did it. The focus of the opening part of the book is on the British pioneers from the First World War, with some mention of the French and a lot more about the Americans. The Second World War material focuses mainly on the Germans, American and Soviets, with some mention of the British, mainly in the Western Desert. The book then ploughs through the French in Vietnam, the Americans in Vietnam (with a mention of the Australian's Centurions), Korea, the Arab-Israeli conflicts and the seldom discussed armoured clashes between the Indian and Pakistani armies up until the early 1970s. As I say, a good enough read but could have been better.
Pension Misery Highlighted
The Dorchester Review , a leading Canadian magazine when it comes to history, is carrying an article I wrote about British Army pensioners, many who served under the Duke of Wellington's command, who were caught up in a disastrous scheme which involved them giving up their pension entitlement in exchange for land in the British Colonies or United States. I became interested in what happened to the so-called Commuted Pensioners after realizing one of the main suspects as a contributor to Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier had been lured to Canada under the scheme.
The latest edition of Canada's Dorchester Review features not one but two articles from Paul - Churchill in the Trenches and Drug Store Commandos. The first link takes you to an extended version of the article which appeared in the DR about Winston Churchill's time in command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on Western Front while the second is an article about the Lovat Scouts training in the Canadian Rockies as mountain warfare specialists.
Canadian Connection with With Wellington in the Peninsula?
The British Canadian newspaper ran an article in its May edition about a possible connection between one of the soldiers in my new book With Wellington in the Peninsula and a disastrous government scheme to settle ex-soldiers in Canada while depriving them of their pensions.
Irish Terrorism in Canada
In between working on a major project, I wrote another article for the Dorchester Review here in Canada. The attempt by terrorists to destroy a Canadian canal lock in 1900 is often dismissed as being the work of bunglers. But a closer look reveals a tale of murder and links successful bombing of the House of Commons more than a decade earlier. Few seem to know that one of the gang was found dead with a bullet through his heart. Attempts by US politicians, including President William Taft, to persuade the Canadian authorities to release the terrorists is better known. Dynamite Dillon
Also see - Dorchester Review
The Dorchester Review, based in Ottawa, Canada, recently published an article I wrote about one of the more eccentric of the British regiments - Victoria's Royal Canadians. Most Canadian historians seem unaware of that a regiment was raised in Canada to fight in the Indian Mutiny.
The Winter Issue of the Scottish American Military Society's magazine The Patriot contains a two page interview with yours truly. I thought the least I could do in return was give them a plug. At a later date, I'll see about either linking to the article or posting a version of the interview on the SMD site.
It’s been a busy few weeks. Last Saturday (Nove. 3) the Scottish Daily Mail published a two page spread under my byline about the 2/10th Royal Scots campaign against the Bolsheviks in northern Russia 1918-1919 titled "The Tsar's Fighting Invalids". I’ve found a link to a site which carries the article but before I post it I want to make sure I’m not sending you somewhere you might regret going. The Daily Mail article let the cat out of the bag when it comes to the fact that I’m working on a new book – working title, Jock and Rorie – Tales of Scottish Soldiers. Read about the Forgotten War
Scottish Military Disasters has been launched as an e-book. And it’s now improved.
Preparing the book in e-book format offered the chance to correct some minor errors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worth someone who has the print version going out and buying the e-book,” said author Paul Cowan.
“But in preparing the e-book we’ve corrected a couple of little irritating misprints and one mistake that probably only annoys me and a couple of my relatives.”
The book is one of the first from the Neil Wilson Publishing catalogue to be released as an e-book.
“Neil’s stable of authors includes such giants as Nigel Tranter, so this is a real honour for me,” said Cowan.
“This will make the book far more accessible to readers in Scotland and around the World – and also in certain countries far more affordable.
“I’ve found where it is reasonably priced overseas, it’s been selling like hotcakes.”
Glasgow-based Neil Wilson said the move into e-books was as a result of public demand.
Wilson teamed up with the respected e-book team at the Faber Factory for the conversion to the new format which will make Scottish Military Disasters available on a variety of devices, including most e-readers and mobile phones.
“We will also go online with Apple soon,” he added.
For details of how to buy the e-book version –
The debate over whether Scotland produces some of the finest fighting men in the World could go on for ever. What is certain is that pride in the military is woven into the Scottish psyche and that that pride has been ruthlessly exploited by the British Establishment.
In the popular imagination the Scottish soldier is a kilted infantryman. The infantry are the men who go through the meat grinder in almost every war and Scotland has provided the British Empire with more than its fair share of infantry. In the fighting after D-Day in 1944 a British study suggested that although the infantry made up only 25% of the troops involved; they suffered 71% of the casualties.
(While I can’t put my hand on my heart and say my research for Scottish Military Disasters points to the Scots having the worse military record in Europe, for most of recorded history it hasn’t been very spectacular. People remember Bannockburn because it is one of the few battles against the English that the Scots won. Even when the English were heavily outnumbered, at battles such as Flodden in 1513 and Dunbar in 1650, they still managed to win. Many English, and Irish and Welsh soldiers for that matter, regard their Scots counterparts as a bunch of blowhards who write cheques with their mouths that their battlefield performance fails to honour. The counter-argument goes that the Scots go that extra mile to back up their boasting.)
But where does this Scottish martial pride which encouraged so many young Scots into the infantry during two world wars come from?